It has been widely reported that, in late November of 2020, the Israeli prime minister secretly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the kingdom’s crown prince. That these two leaders met at all is noteworthy; that they might have discussed the possibility of normalizing relations between the Jewish state and the wealthiest and most influential Arab country is momentous.

It is easy to see what Israel stands to gain from peace with the Saudis. But what’s in it for Saudi Arabia? What would they gain, and what would they risk losing?

After a decades-long, worldwide campaign to free Soviet Jewry, in the late 1980s the borders of the Soviet Union were finally opened, allowing its Jews to immigrate to the State of Israel. This period saw approximately one million men and women from the former Soviet Union leave and resettle in the Jewish state. They came in fulfillment of Zionist aspirations, in search of material opportunities, and in pursuit of greater freedom.

At the time that the Russians arrived, Israel had fewer than five million citizens, and these new immigrants brought with them an entirely new set of cultural assumptions and practices. And they posed a religious challenge as well, as a great many of them qualified for Israeli citizenship, but did not qualify as Jewish under the requirements of Orthodox law.

The year 2020 has been one of real suffering. The Coronavirus has infected tens of millions the world over and has taken the lives of a quarter of a million Americans. It’s decimated the economy, shuttered businesses, brought low great cities, and immiserated millions who could not even attend funerals or weddings, visit the sick, or console the demoralized. This podcast focuses on how to think Jewishly about suffering and about the sources of Jewish fortitude in the face of tragedy and challenge. In his October 2020 Mosaic essay, “How America’s Idealism Drained Its Jews of Their Resilience,” Shalem College’s Daniel Gordis examines recent experiences of Jewish suffering and how different Jewish communities responded to it. In doing so, he makes the case that Jewish tradition and Jewish nationalism endow the Jewish soul with the resources to persevere in the face of adversity. Liberal American Jewish communities, by contrast, have no such resources to draw upon. He joins Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay and more. Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

In November of 1945, the American Jewish Committee established a new, independent magazine of Jewish ideas, with the goal of explaining America to the Jews and the Jews to the America. This month, Commentary marks 75 years of publishing about everything from culture, politics, and history to foreign affairs, Israel, and Jewish thought. During that time, it has proven to be one of America’s most influential journals of public affairs and central fora for great Jewish debates. The late Irving Kristol is said to have called it the most important Jewish magazine in history. He was probably right.

In the history of American Jewish letters, Commentary is responsible for bringing Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Cynthia Ozick to the attention of the reading public. During the Cold War, the magazine fought against the then-reigning foreign-policy paradigms of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Not one, but two separate Commentary essays helped secure their authors’—Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jean Kirkpatrick—appointments as United Nations Ambassadors. And in the field of Jewish and Zionist ideas thought, the magazine has over the years published such leading Jewish scholars as Gershom Scholem, Emil Fackenheim, Leon Kass, and Ruth Wisse.

Last week marked the 140th birthday of one of Zionism’s most remarkable and prophetic leaders: Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The intellectual father of the Revisionist school and the ideological forerunner of today’s ruling Likud party, Jabotinsky exhibited more foresight during his lifetime that nearly any of his contemporaries. He was, for example, foremost in sounding the alarm about the danger to European Jews a decade before the Holocaust.

His prescience is also on display in a pair of essays he wrote in the 1920s: “The Iron Wall” and “Ethics of the Iron Wall,” in which he laid out a security doctrine for dealing with the Arab population of Palestine. Even a century later, these essays read as if they could have been written just yesterday.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the freedom of religion is protected by two separate guarantees: a prohibition on the establishment of an official church and an individual right to the “free exercise” of religion. The First Amendment thus protects not only the right of the faithful to believe as their consciences dictate, but also the right to live their lives in accordance with these beliefs.

Since 1990, the legal contours of the free exercise clause have been defined by a landmark Supreme Court case, Employment Division v. Smith, which significantly narrowed the protections afforded to people of faith. In the time since, both the legal and the cultural landscape have changed significantly, and the Court will have a chance to revisit Smith’s holding in the upcoming case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

During this year of lockdowns, shuttered businesses, and working from home, people have made time for many new habits and hobbies, from baking bread to reorganizing closets. In this podcast, Jewish literary and political scholar Ruth Wisse, one of our era’s great masters of Jewish letters, offers her own suggestion for how to spend at least some of that time: reading the greatest works of modern Jewish literature.

Those works to her are:

The Coronavirus pandemic has undermined years of economic growth and sent hundreds of thousands of Israelis onto the unemployment rolls. How can Israel—the legendary “start-up nation”—recover from this economic crisis?

Dan Senor, co-author with Saul Singer of the bestselling book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is one of the world’s leading experts on Israel’s economy in general, and its tech sector in particular. He joins Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, for a discussion about how the Jewish state became a global technology juggernaut, the prospects for integrating the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors into the broader economy, and the outlook for an Israeli recovery after the devastation of COVID-19.

2020 has been a chaotic year, and last weekend, millions of Jews the world over celebrated Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—and prayed that the coming year would be better than the one that just ended.

Of course, for religious Jews we’re now in the midst of the ten day period between Rosh Hashana and the day of atonement, Yom Kippur. During this interim period, known as the Ten Days of Repentance, we take a step back from our lives, reflect on our shortcomings, and resolve to return to walk a better path in the year ahead. In this podcast, our host, Jonathan Silver, digs back into the archives to bring you excerpts from our best conversations on faith, mortality, tradition, and obligation, and sin. Our aim this week is to bring you occasions to think theologically at a theologically heightened time of year. Excerpts are drawn from past discussions with Tara Isabella Burton, Rabbi David Bashevkin, Christine Rosen, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, and Rabbi Dovid Margolin.

Over the past four years, debates about America’s so-called “deep state”—the web of agencies, career civil servants, and unelected bureaucrats responsible for a growing amount of federal policymaking—have increasingly found their way into political discourse in the United States. Though these arguments occasionally take conspiratorial turns, at the core of the controversy is perhaps the most important question in political science: “Who rules?” The people or the bureaucrats?

In Mosaic’s September 2020 essay, writer and Tikvah alumnus Haviv Rettig Gur takes us inside the workings of another country’s deep state: Israel’s. And he makes a surprising and thought-provoking case—one that might seem counterintuitive to many Americans. He argues that while the Israeli bureaucracy is unelected and largely unaccountable, it is also an indispensable source of fiscal prudence and market discipline in a political system with profoundly distorted incentives.

Since 2015, the Israeli writer and translator Hillel Halkin has published a series of ten essays in Mosaic on the seminal Hebrew writers of the 19th and early-20th centuries. They dealt with everyone from Bialik to Agnon, Rahel to Ahad Ha’am. Those essays have now been brought together in Halkin’s newly published book, The Lady of Hebrew and Her Lovers of Zion. The act of writing such a book is an act of cultural preservation, safeguarding the literature, poetry, and essays through which the Jewish people sought to understand themselves as a modern nation in the modern world.

In this podcast, Halkin joins one of his longtime interlocutors, Professor Ruth Wisse, for a wide-ranging discussion about Israel, aliyah, tradition, religion, cultural fidelity, and, of course, Halkin’s new book. This conversation is but a snapshot of a long-running conversation between these two giants of modern Jewish letters.

Prisoner of Zion, human-rights activist, member of Knesset, chairman of the Jewish Agency. Lecturer, author, inspiration to millions. In his 72 years on earth, Natan Sharansky has lived several lifetimes. And in his latest book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People, he partners with the historian Gil Troy to reflect on the lessons he has learned throughout a life that’s taken him from the Gulag to the halls of Israel’s parliament.

In this podcast, Gil Troy joins Jonathan Silver for a conversation about his partnership with Sharansky, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, the Sovietization of American culture, and much more.

Though substantial progress is rarely made, peace in the Middle East is the holy grail of every American presidential administration and the subject of endless analysis and discussion. The amount of time and effort that government officials, foreign-policy experts, and diplomats have put into solving the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors is probably incalculable. But this month, the United States managed to help them achieve a breakthrough, brokering what’s being called the Abraham Accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The path to this accord was not conventional. One of the key administration officials who led this effort, Jared Kushner, drew on his experience in the private sector to reevaluate the interests and alliances of the region. Until five years ago, Kushner had little political experience, but his team achieved something that has confounded peace-process professionals for decades.

One week ago, the president of the United States, the prime minister of Israel, and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates together announced the normalization of relations between the U.A.E and Israel. This is Israel’s first accord with an Arab nation since 1994, and it is the first time it has ever entered into such an arrangement with an Arab nation with which it does not share a border.

In this week’s podcast, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, explains how this happened, who made it happen, and the consequences it could well have for regional security, regional prosperity, and peace between Israel and her other Arab neighbors.

The book of Deuteronomy, which Jews around the globe read in synagogue in the period leading up to the High Holy Days, consists primarily of Moses’s final oration to the people of Israel. With the nation on the cusp of conquering Canaan and establishing its own sovereign government, the prophet presents Israel with a set of laws and regulations surrounding power and kingship—what some scholars call the “Mosaic Constitution.”

In his best-selling Hebrew book, ha-N’um ha-Aharon shel Moshe (Moses’s Last Speech), the Israeli writer and philosopher Micah Goodman offers a thought-provoking and original interpretation of Deuteronomy, presenting profound insights about the Torah’s revolutionary political teachings. Though the book has not yet been translated into English, Dr. Goodman recently taught an eight-episode online course for the Tikvah Fund on “Deuteronomy: The Last Speech of Moses,” in which he explores and expands upon the themes and ideas of his earlier work. In this podcast, he speaks with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver about Deuteronomy’s laws regarding the monarchy and what political and philosophical wisdom they hold for us today.

Last year, a former Obama-era Defense Department official testified before Congress about Chinese strategy in the Middle East, saying “China’s strategy in the Middle East is driven by its economic interests…China…does not appear interested in substantially deepening its diplomatic or security activities there.” This view certainly sums up conventional foreign-policy wisdom, but, write the Hudson Institute scholars Michael Doran and Peter Rough, it couldn’t be more wrong.

In an extended essay published in Tablet, Doran and Rough demonstrate that “China is very actively engaged in a hard-power contest with the United States,” in the Middle East. The outcome of this great-power competition will have tremendous implications for the global economy, human rights, and U.S. interests in the region and around the globe.

Just over a year ago, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo created the new Commission on Unalienable Rights, tasked with “provid[ing] the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters” as well as “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” The formation of this commission signaled that Secretary Pompeo views America’s pursuit of human rights at home and abroad as properly rooted the deepest sources of American political philosophy and history.


After centuries of antagonism and persecution, the twentieth century introduced profound changes to the relationship between Jews and Christians. In the shadow of the Holocaust, post-War America witnessed a flowering of interfaith dialogue, often spearheaded by the more liberal wings of both groups. This flowering of interreligious cooperation was made possible by identifying the lowest common denominators between Judaism and Christianity—a shared attachment to the Hebrew Bible, similar ethical commitments—and eliding the more serious theological differences between them.

But today, we are witnessing a different kind of rapprochement, not between the most progressive and weakly affiliated Jews and Christians, but between some of the most traditional and committed members of both faiths. This historic new cooperation is the topic of Professor Wilfred McClay’s July 2020 essay in Mosaic, “What Christians See in Jews and Israel in 2020 of the Common Era.” And in this podcast, he joins Mosaic’s editor to explore his piece in greater depth. He discusses the events that have led to this new and historic era, the role America’s unique history has played in reaching this point, and the role of religion in securing the precious blessings of ordered liberty.

On June 25, 2020, an explosion rocked the Iranian military complex of Parchin. An hour later, the city of Shiraz—which houses major Iranian military facilities—was hit with a power outage. On June 30, there was an explosion at a clinic in Tehran; on July 2, the nuclear-enrichment facility in Natanz was hit; July 4 saw an explosion at a power plant in Ahvaz. In fact, every day or two since late June has brought news of a mysterious explosion somewhere in Iran.

What on earth is going on?

Everyone can see that a revolutionary spirit is haunting American public life right now. The demands being made of our laws and culture are uncompromising and radical. The public mood is given to extremes, and notions of gradual improvement and subtle distinctions are thought to be incapable of speaking to the severity of our racial, cultural, scientific, and spiritual challenges

So this week, we are rebroadcasting a discussion from the archives that focuses on a figure whose watchwords were the very opposite of America’s present utopian fever—the essayist of American skepticism, empiricism, meliorism, and gradualism—Irving Kristol.